Staying Power

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Staying Power Podcast Available Now!

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Program Overview

Staying Power is a youth-driven movement for housing justice and belonging through arts advocacy. Over the last two years, we have built a core leadership team of 15 teens in Ypsilanti. In this coming year, these young leaders will meet with community organizers to learn about the political landscape of Washtenaw County and align their artistic projects with current policy work. Through community dialogs, elder interviews, memory-mapping, a visiting artist series, book publications and a photojournalism project, teen leaders will capture the stories of our community and archive Black, Indigenous and Latinx history, culture and art in Washtenaw County.


We believe in the power of personal narrative and qualitative data and that young people can make real change by sharing their stories. As Black and Latinx families are being displaced and local culture is being erased, Staying Power teens have been creating art to assert their needs, grievances and dreams. Our dream is to create a county-wide, diverse, youth-driven but intergenerational collective of artist-activists committed to defending affordable housing and preserving Black, Indigenous and Latinx art and culture. We believe that while naming the problem is essential, it will take radical imagination to create and implement solutions. Who knows what is needed to address gentrification more than those currently impacted by displacement due to rising rent? Staying Power is open to all youth (14-22) in Washtenaw County, and we intentionally center BIPOC youth from Ypsi and young people who are unhoused or have experienced housing insecurity directly.

The teens of Staying Power are reclaiming their community, re-writing the mainstream narrative, and re-imagining their cities as safe havens and artistic hubs: “I love Ypsi/So I insist on the right to say what I want for my city/I want home to be a place where every sexuality is supported, every race loved, every gender valid/I’m tryna live in a place where I don’t fear the sidewalks/Growing hope, greens rising so high they shelter us/No more public housing, we want more public art/We want a Black history mural in the Depot Town alley/We want rent control and affordable housing/A community land trust for artists of color/A safe space for Black residents to come together/This is a calling out/This is a calling in/This is a call to action.”

  • Podcast 
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    Over the last two years, Staying Power has built a core leadership team of 15 teens in Ypsilanti. In this coming year, these young leaders will meet with community organizers to learn about the political landscape of Washtenaw County and align their artistic projects with current policy work. This podcast is one of those projects. Through community dialogs, elder interviews, memory-mapping, and more, young leaders will capture the stories of our community and archive Black, Indigenous and Latinx history, culture and art in Washtenaw County. Listen below!

  • History
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    In its first iteration, Staying Power focused on two cities—Richmond, CA and Ypsilanti, MI. In 2008 Donté Clark (former Richmond Poet Laureate) and Molly Raynor co-founded RAW Talent, a youth performing arts program in Richmond, CA. In 2017, the same year Molly moved back to Michigan to coordinate the Neutral Zone’s Literary Arts program, a group of residents in Richmond created a coalition called “Staying Power” to defend affordable housing. When Donté visited Michigan in 2017, he felt a deep kindred connection between Ypsi and Richmond- both are small, historically Black, family-oriented cities with rich cultural histories of art and activism. This is when the dream was born: to build off of the work happening in both communities and connect young artist-activists across the country for a cultural exchange.

    In 2018, Neutral Zone received a grant from the NEA to extend the Staying Power movement in partnership with Ozone House in Ypsi and the RYSE Center in Richmond. The program launched with a retreat in Richmond led by Donté (our Artistic Director) and Ciera-Jevae Gordon (our Richmond coordinator)  and continued with weekly virtual workshops. The Richmond teens came to Ypsi in December 2019 for a joint production that they performed for a sold out audience of 500 people at Ypsi High to culminate their year-long exchange. Ypsi’s Staying Power branch received grants from Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation and Rackham Public Scholars (with support from Carlina Duan and Bryan Byrdlong) to continue the program with a focus on local history and housing justice arts advocacy. Staying Power began through Neutral Zone and is now a program of Engage @ EMU.

  • 2021 Vision and Next Steps
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    1. We are carving out a more permanent (temporarily virtual) safe space for teens to write, share and heal through weekly workshops (Tuesdays 4:30-6 p.m. over zoom).
    2. Young leaders will document the history and culture of communities displaced by gentrification and those fighting to stay. Rackham Public Scholars Carlina Duan and Bryan Byrdlong have joined as guest teaching artists and introduced us to the framework of “documentary poetics,” teaching teens best practices for translating stories we gather from community members into their own poetry. Through research and interviews with local residents, teens will learn the history of their families and neighborhoods and come to see themselves as critical culture-keepers.
    3. The teens are about to launch a youth-driven podcast with the support of West Willow advocate Alex Thomas. They will discuss monthly themes and bring on guests, highlighting local residents, community leaders, movements and Black and immigrant-owned businesses.
    4. The final component is political education. We are working with community organizers to better understand local housing policies and center teen voices in their efforts to create systemic change.
    5. The project will culminate with a live or virtual multimedia production, a published anthology of youth writing, and a website with podcast archives and a digital memory map.
  • Book, Poetry, Videos
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  • Media and Press Coverage
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    Read about Staying Power:

  • How to Stay Updated
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    Follow us on IG @staypowypsi

    For questions or for teens interested in joining our Tuesday workshops, email Molly at [email protected]

    staying power group standing in front of a colorful street mural outside

  • Staying Power Staff
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    • Young Leaders
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      Naima Peterson

      Naima is a 17 year old Detroit born and raised poet who moved to Ann Arbor her freshman year of high school. Moving into a mainly white based environment brought out her activism and leadership. She competed in the poetry slam and got on the slam team her first time ever competing. She has performed many poems surrounding the LGBTQ+ community, BLM, mental health and police brutality. Naima hopes to make change through her poetry and bring the positive to light.

      Ciatta Tucker

      my name is ciatta tucker, and I’m 18. i am a slam poet and a black creative. my work centers around blackness, social justice, and the world around me.

      "to me staying power is more like a movement and community of like minded youth who want to make a change in their neighborhoods. it’s important to me because before, i felt like i didn’t have a group of people to relate to when it comes to housing justice and other social justice topics."

      Lai Pasha

      I am 18, I am a poet, founder and facilitator of SARE, a social justice activist and a black creative. 
      “Staying Power is important to me because I feel it’s important to fight for and support the community that raised and poured into me. You wouldn’t turn your back on family when they have an issue, so why turn your back on the community when they need help ?”


      I am a poet, rapper, singer (kinda), future playwright, and actor. I want my words, my art, my voice to make change for me, and whoever has helped me get to this point. Stay blessed.

      "Staying Power is vital in my life. I quietly didn't recognize the gentrification happening in my neighborhood. My friends that I spent near a decade with had to leave because the rent got too high. No one else is going to make the change we need to, so we gotta do it ourselves, however we can."

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      Carlina Duan

      Carlina Duan is a poetry workshop co-facilitator for Staying Power. She is the author of the poetry collection I" Wore My Blackest Hair" (Little A, 2017), andAlien Miss (University of Wisconsin Press, 2021). She currently teaches at the University of Michigan, where she is also a Ph.D. student in the Joint Program in English and Education. She has a sweet tooth.

      Bryan Byrdlong

      Bryan Byrdlong is a Haitian/African-American writer from Chicago, Illinois. He recently graduated from Vanderbilt University where he received an undergraduate English/Creative Writing degree. In high school, Bryan was fortunate enough to be apart of Chicago’s Louder than a Bomb poetry slam competition. While at Vanderbilt, he was published in the Vanderbilt Review and was the co-recipient of the Merrill Moore Award for Poetry upon graduation. Most recently, his poem ',JENTRƏFƏˈKĀSH(Ə)N' was published in the Nashville Review.
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      Maria Theocharakis


      Alex Thomas

      After teaching in China for 8 years, I returned to "Ypsi" to care for my parents in February of 2016. Seeing the decline in the Ypsilanti Township neighborhood where I was raised West Willow, I launched a career in community organizing and advocacy. My activities encompass door to door outreach, facilitating neighborhood meetings, identifying & building relationships with stakeholders/influencing organizations & people, and media production. Also conceiving, developing, and implementing programs and social activities aimed at building community and educating/empowering individuals. Some examples have been cooking classes, health fair, town halls, video podcasts and voter registration.

      This work led me to re-establishing my relationship with Avalon Housing, where I resided and helped start their tenant association in the early 90’s. I’m a member of their Board of Trustees and have authored their bi-monthly newsletter several times. I also am employed on their Community Building team in a less than 5 hour a week position at the Miller Manor property. I’m very proud of my work at the site supporting the Resident Council in serving the tenant population there.

      Ciera-Jevae "CiCi" Gordon

      RYSE Media, Arts, & Culture Program Manager

      Richmond Artist

      As the Media, Arts, & Culture (MAC) Program Manager, CiCi mentors and supports her team as they collectively elevate all art forms within RYSE. CiCi is passionate about creating spaces where youth are comfortable so they can challenge themselves and their peers in their art while building community. CiCi has worked at the African American Resource and Cultural Center at UC Santa Cruz for 4 years coordinating study jams and the Black graduation. She has taught poetry at the Santa Cruz county jail. CiCi has a BA in Sociology, has received the Dean's Award for her chapbook Incarcerated Words, All Campus Honors Awards, and placed 5th in the nation as part of the Root Slam Team. She has been on four national slam teams and currently serves as one of Richmond's Poets Laureate.

      "The title, “Concrete, Not Wood,” comes from an Oakland native artist who created a skate park in the heart of Oakland. He shared with us that it was important to use concrete, not wood, because wood eventually fades, but concrete stays. While wood is decomposable, unable to last, easy to rot in rough conditions, concrete is forever, and so is the power of our youth. Both cities are connected across the country through our collective rage and our fight for liberation of people of color and our cities."

      Donté Clark, Staying Power Artistic Director

      Staying Power Artistic Director

      Richmond Artist

      Donté Clark is a poet and emcee who is consistently performing across schools, conferences, poetry readings and Hip Hop shows globally. He is the former Poet Laureate of Richmond, CA, and was accepted to the VONA program, a prestigious week-long conference for writers of color. Donté’s primary focus is ending the violence that has plagued his community and impacted him deeply—he uses his art and curriculum as a call to action. His quest to heal his community through art is the focus of the documentary “Romeo Is Bleeding” on Netflix. His appearance in films like award winning “Kicks” and the new web-series “The North Pole” only catch a glimpse of his creative reach. In the last several years, Donté hosted a town hall on gun violence in Richmond, wrote and staged two plays, “Té’s Harmony” and “Po’Boys Kitchen,” and published a collection of his poetry, “KnowFreedom.” He continues to spark critical dialogue and encourages everyone to do the same.

      Molly Pershin Raynor

      Molly Pershin Raynor (she/her) is the Community Manager at 4.0 Schools. She is an educator, organizer and poet. She co-founded RAW Talent with Donté Clark, now the RYSE Center’s Performing Arts Program, which serves youth in Richmond, California. Her work is highlighted in the documentary film, "Romeo Is Bleeding" which was on Netflix. Molly won a Jefferson Award for Public Service and a Teachers 4 Social Justice Award for her work in the Bay Area. Three years ago, Molly moved home to Michigan where she is currently getting her Masters in Social Work from Eastern Michigan University and helping coordinate Staying Power. Her poetry has been featured on NPR and published in several literary magazines including Vinyl, The Rumpus, and Porkbelly Press. Molly comes from a long line of Jewish storytellers and plumbers who taught her how to bend words and weld new worlds.



  • Current Partnerships, Sponsors & Resources

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    We are grateful to our sponsors Engage @ EMU, Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation and Rackham Public Scholars, as well as our community partners- the Student Advocacy Center, Grove Studios and Ryse Center.

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